I’m hoping that someone out there has missed these blogs. Guess you could say there’s good news and bad news and it’s really the same thing: I’ve been finishing my second book, working title “On the West Clay Line”, and simply haven’t had time to write Richmond Views. I’m sorry that this past month or so you didn’t have blog stories but you do get Richmond stories in the new book, coming out this fall, so that’s good news. The second book is also based on my great-grandfather’s photos taken while working on the West Clay streetcar line,  including Jackson Ward, Carver, Newtowne and Navy Hill. Even better, I’ve included oral histories complimenting  the pictures so you’ll be transported to Richmond in the early 1900s with Stilson pictures and true stories. I hope that makes up for the Richmond Views’ silence.

My brother Parks sent me this article about Elli Morris and her movie tribute to the James River. It sounds like a great project and an entertaining event. You should go. http://www.timesdispatch.com/sports/columnists-blogs/andy-thompson/outdoors-movie-about-the-james-honors-river-people/article_e8be9fb0-9010-5064-94bf-cb55f35ce068.html

Reading about Elli’s film naturally brought Harris Stilson’s photos to mind. He took a lot of river pictures back in the day (1909-1934) and I’ll share a few with you. Perhaps you can identify locations for Richmond In Sight. I haven’t had time to cruise the river’s edge, pictures in hand, to match photos with specific locations, so maybe you river rats can save me some time.

Many of the Stilson photos are of floods. (What a shocker…James River flooding is always fascinating to Richmonders!) The first three are May, 1924 and his captions explain them best:

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He took another photo, dated August 12, 1928, of almost the same view but with the following notation on the back:  “After our return from the mountains this happened here. View taken at the settling basin from a place on bank west of the Belt Line R.R. By the way, some 300 acres in that location have been laid off in a rich man’s villa, addition to Richmond curbed, guttered and lighted.  You would not know all the west side of the belt line, and in as is all built in west of Belmont nearly to belt line now.”

When you live in Richmond all your life, floods bring vivid memories like contaminated drinking water and the telephone call from Switzerland we got once. My aunt and uncle, Bud & Martue, were out of the country and read in the newspaper that Richmond, VA was under water. Panicked, they made a very expensive call home to find that Bon Air was just fine and the flooding was “the usual.”

No explanation necessary for these two:

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Harry also took photos when the James wasn’t flooding. Here’s “Above 9th Street Bridge Richmond, Va Drought 8-14-1930.” Unfortunately this copy is nearly torn in half. There may be a better copy somewhere but with nearly 3,000 photos and negatives to sort through, I don’t have time to look.

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The last one I’ll share right now is a view from Libby Hill. There is no date,at least on these. Again, in another 30 years or so when the photos are indexed, I might find the date on another picture in the series. Harry explained “highest flood in 23 years. Taken from Libby Hill (at east end of Main St) This picture was taken with 3A camera, no sun and muchhaze. Set wide open and on bulb exposure, then pressed the ball as for “snap” shot, which made about double the time of a “snap.” You will notice the streetcar going down the hill did not blur but it was going away from me slowly.”Huh. I hadn’t noticed the trolley until I read his description. Thanks, Harry.

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The James has always been dear to the River City. My 97-year-old friend, Dr. Charles Williams, has lots of pictures of flooding of Hull Street and folks on the bridges surveying the high water. Events are dated in our memories as pre-flood or post as in “we bought that horse/car/house/whatever right before the flood of (insert date). Our city identity is linked to the river and it has been employer, entertainment, savior and foe, each ebbing and flowing like the James itself.

Go down and watch Elli’s tribute to the river Friday night. I’d be there if I didn’t have my aunt with Alzheimer’s living with me. Imagine Harry Stilson and all the Richmonders through the years standing at the river bank and know that you are one in a family of many. Don’t you just love the River City?

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